Study: Number of U.S. married couples at record low
Brides are in abundance in some places, like Colombia this month during a mass wedding, but nuptials are down elsewhere.
December 14th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

Study: Number of U.S. married couples at record low

The number of married couples in the United States is at a record low, according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center.

Numbers released Wednesday show 51% of American adults are married, a 5% drop from the previous year in new nuptials. The median age that people get married has risen to 26.5 years for brides and 28.7 for grooms.

Read the Pew Research Center report on marriage

The numbers reflect an increase in other living arrangements that have taken hold for American adults, such as cohabitation, divorce, single parenting and the rise of grandfamilies.

If current trends continue, in just a few years there will be more single Americans than married.

In 1960, nearly 60% of  young adults age 18 to 29 were married. Today, 20% have tied the knot.

Experts say America has undergone a cultural shift when it comes to getting hitched.

More U.S. couples living together, study says

“In the 1950s, if you weren’t married, people thought you were mentally ill,” Andrew J. Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist, told the Washington Post.  “Marriage was mandatory. Now it’s culturally optional.”

Natasha Medina, a single woman in Los Angeles and founder of Medina Muze Management, a firm that represents production artists, said the traditional relationship between men and women has changed in the past 50 years.

Women have taken control of their careers and life, she said, “while at the same time men have asked their women to be superwomen,” she said. “We’ve been asked to be business-oriented, a mother, a cook, a great wife … something’s got to give."

Marriage’s eroding “market share” is evident not just in the United States, but all advanced post-industrial societies, the study said, regardless of economic factors.

Along racial lines, the statistics varied greatly: In 1960, 74% of whites were wed. Today 55% are married. Among blacks 31% are married; in 1960, 61% reported being hitched. For Hispanics, 48% are married today, compared with 72% in 1960.

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  1. Uthor

    This isn't surprising. Outside of providing a legal and financial contract for child-rearing, it's hard to imagine what attraction marriage might hold for anyone these days. It's an old fashioned construct. Both men and women can earn their own livings these days, so there's no financial benefit to women (other than not having to work at all) and they may do as they wish. And people tend to find as many amorous partners they might hanker after–whether or not they are bound by the contract or not. It's never seemed to be an obstacle for multiple partners, regardless of whatever children's stories lead us to believe. So people have wised up. What's the benefit in it?

    December 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eddie

      "Imagine" is the operative word. The past is gone. Pretending will not change this.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • rashid

      So for you, its all about shagging around. Marriage creates wealth, look around at the richest people in retirement, they're married. Even with kids draining the accounts, married people still end up wealthier and live longer. Stay single, who cares, this is really a non-story.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Marriage doesn't create wealth, wealth makes it far easier to get married. Look at all the average looking rich guys with hot trophy wives.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy (No help for College)

      I've been married for over 24 yrs. and if anything it has cost us deeply, over $100,000.00 to for a quick estimate. Every time we appled for assistance for college for our 2 sons we were denied. But we were also told if we were divorced we would qualify for assistance. Then add in that we are taxed higher than individuals and on top of that companies are trying to make us carry individual insurance instead of being able to pick which policy best suits our needs and pocketbook. In addition our school taxes are higher and our school is over 100 yrs old but we could not afford to send our kids to a private school and did not qualify for charter schools because we were married and making to much money together but if we were divorced we would be considered assistance to send the boys to a charter school. My marriage is the only thing steady in this economy even though my paycheck is not.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. James

    Unless they change the laws to account for the acceptability of divorce, this will continue to drop. Divorce often leads to financial ruin, especially for men. I know multiple men who owned their homes prior to getting married, then lost them in the divorce. Some even pay child support for kids they never get to see, and in almost every case it was the woman who got up and left, no abuse or anything, just greener grass on the other side.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • oldironeagle

      Totally agree

      December 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      Divorce leads to financial ruin of the finacially responsible spouse who doesn't have a prenup. Marriage can do the same if a major medical condition or accident happens to a child – both can be bankrupted or sued. There is NO financial advantage to marriage. The legal contract only makes it easier for creditors to collect and lawyers to profit. Cohabitation is a much better option.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Eddie

    What a disparate collection of comments. For the record, fe min ism destroyed the traditional family a long time ago. The first post- fe min ist generation is mid 20s now, and they are hurtin' units. Young men, don't marry these witches. Americam women are bad news. Be afraid.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      yeah because equality is a bad thing.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Equality is fine, but they don't want equality, they want the perks of both genders and the responsibilities of neither.

      Just look at the workplace, men walk around on eggshells to avoid offending women in the office. When was the last time you saw a married man go sleep around, then leave his wife and get legal custody of the kids and child support from her?

      December 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • PhillyRN

      Actually US law on marriage was much more strict until feminism. In the late 1800s, divorce was something that was only granted for causes like proven adultery, which you had to do in court. Las Vegas became popular because it had a no-fault divorce process, no ugly court case proving wrong doing at around WWII. Feminists argued for liberalization of divorce laws so that people could get a divorce. Many men suffered ruin and disgrace from having to prove their first wives insane or inebriate to get a divorce before then. From then on those men were social outcasts, and so were the children by their second marriage. That's the story of the wealthy copper daughter who passed away recently, Hughette Clark. That you can get a divorce in the US is thanks to feminists.

      The laws have not changed in generations though. That is all an artifact of reforms that occurred around WWII that were a compromise to conservative social critics who didn't want divorce to be too easy or men to "walk away" from their obligations.

      December 14, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff

    I was married for for over 12 years. She did nothing but criticize and belittle me for everything I did, but I stood by and took it because that is what I was taught to do. Then she cheated on me and divorced me. Now I get to pay child support. I am scarred to death to make that mistake again. The only good thing I got out of that 12 years of HELL was my daughter. I don't see why anyone would ever get married. I work in a job where I see people alot and all I ever see is women nagging and criticizing the men they are with. Never again!!!

    December 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Slewatha

      Why would a person get married when there is a 50% chance you will end up paying someone you hate a large chunk of money every month for years to come?

      December 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. David

    Cohabitation here. And it is strictly due to economics and government regulations. It is just not feasible for us to get married.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alex

    I got married three years ago and I thought that my wife was the best person in the world, a loving, compassionate, caring, and charitable person. I was so convinced of this that I proposed too soon and got married too soon. It turns out that I did not know her as well as I thought I did. She turned out to be a severe Shop-A-Holic, and she drove me into bankruptcy. We have a 20 month old daughter, and when she got pregnant with our second child, she filed for divorce. She got her well-off parents to hire an expensive high-end lawyer and took me for everything. Now I have to pay her $3000+ per month in spousal and child support, and I only get to visit my kids for twice a week for an hour. This is because I did not have the money to defend myself legally.

    I would not recommend marriage to anybody. It was the worst mistake I ever made in my whole life, and I will be struggling with the consequences for the rest of my life.

    If you are discerning marriage, I urge you not to rush into things. You need to get to know your partner very well before you marry them, and this can take years. Don't just marry that person because they are "there", and you don't think you can find anyone else. You will be so much better off alone than if you marry the wrong person.

    I also urge you not to get married if you do not have a steady and secure job or source of income and money, because if you have children, they are very expensive in this economy, and if you cannot afford to take care of them, The Department of Children Services will bend over backwards to take your kids away from you and put them in a shoddy foster home. This is very, very common and happens all the time - a lot more than most people realize.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • rashid

      Sorry, pal, you got hosed. Women are nesters, and shopping is part of that. My mother is 90 and still burns up money on junk. You're best bet, really, is to leave the country. You will NEVER get out of this mess becasue its based on percent of income, make more, more gets taken away. Move to Dubai, have a local account and kiss the world goodbye.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      Sorry to hear about that, It's america, the guy with the highest priced lawyer usually wins. Doesn't matter about the case. Aks OJ. That is why the army general said it will be a sad day for americans if those at Gitmo get a civilian trial.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. chillipepper

    Marriage laws are unfair to men if there is a split. So men I think have finally wised up. Also some see it as old fashion, passe. Also in this day and age theres alot of people you woudn't want to marry.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Andreas Moser

    Best reason not to get married:

    December 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Meanwhile

    Gay marriages are at an all-time high. As are the spread of STD's. If this trend continues, str8 marriage will be outlawed and everyone will have aids.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      December 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Observer

      Marriage is the best way to cut down on promiscuity.

      Good points by you to show why gay marriage should be approved everywhere.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Observer

      "If this trend continues, str8 marriage will be outlawed and everyone will have aids." is the winner of the most ridiculous mindless statement of the day.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tim

    WOW – reading all these comments sure makes me glad to be gay and legally prohibited from being married in my State of Colorado!

    December 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mark

    I been with the same woman for 20yrs and we arent married. Never really saw the point. Neither of us are religious.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. QS

    I'm gay and will have been with my partner for 10 years in May. We don't really have any plans to get married, were it legal to in my state. But we should still have the opportunity to if we so choose to in the future.

    That religious people want to claim marriage as theirs and theirs only I think also tends to turn a lot more of the younger generation off. People are starting to finally see through the false rhetoric of "traditional values" as being anything of worth in this day and fact, I really hope more people are starting to see those "traditional values" constantly espoused by religious people for what they really are – discriminatory and extremely exclusive.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MarriedSoon

    I don't disagree completely with a lot of the haters (caution is key) on here but to be frank you are jaded because of your personal experience. I'm getting married in May knowing darn well the statistics (i'm a statistician). I love my fiance and we are both a little older and mature so I think the key to marriage in this age and time is waiting for quite a while before making this big of a decision. Pre-think the consequences and understand that if you marry someone making half of your salary that you will most likely lose big if it doesn't work out for whatever the reason (also a great reason to wait and live together for quite a while before making this decision). I don't get the financial arguments on here as every couple is different and there is such large variation among marriages that generalizations are useless. Clearly marriage isn't for everyone and people that are getting engaged should truly stop and realize both that many marriages don't work out and on top of that they should consider and discuss the reasons why not! Communication is key....nobody is going to change because of a piece of paper. If cheating is going to happen during the marriage, there were probably signs during the engagement and prior to it that this would be the case. If you are guessing about how a person is going to be during marriage then you already have a problem before it even happens.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      They just need to get rid of the laws that allow one partner (and let's be honest here, it's almost always the woman) to take assets from the person they leave. Support made sense back when women didn't/couldn't work. Modern women can have careers and support themselves. Heck my last several bosses were women as are several company VPs. There is no reason for a woman to leach off her ex husband. Child support is one thing, but even then, only if the man is allowed to be a part of his children's lives.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      It used to be that many people used to wait until their deathbed till they were baptized and became a Christian because it was such a big decision and they did not want to take the chance of messing up. People that deliberately wait until their 30s to get married remind me of that. It is just as momentous decision, with potentially severe consequences, to spend your 20s deliberately single, as it is to marry in your 20s.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarriedSoon

      Mark-Waiting without thought is entirely different from dating with the purpose of choosing a partner for life. If you date for pleasure, great, good for you but just realize that if the goal is for something committed, you haven't even started "dating" yet. The clock starts when people look past the surface and really reach for quality. For me, if I didn't find it, that would have been fine. I would be single forever. I was never concerned about that. I WAS concerned about picking a partner that I wasn't completely happy and comfortable with.
      James-I don't disagree with the concern. My brother is in that boat. Makes nearly 300K a year and comes home with a teachers salary after the divorce. Financially a failed marriage can be horribly brutal. Yet he is engaged currently to a woman with as much to lose financially as he once had. Bad things happen to good people but marriage should never be based on moeny or legal rights etc. I'm not religious but yet I know that isn't the point of marriage.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. clearmind

    @fall of humanity ...I am in your corner!! Not one comment mentioned being able to share your life with another person on an intimate doesnt exist anymore. so called phone s.e.x. has replaced intimacy. Even that is a PC term for what it really is....Doing that or whatever its called now is a perfect example of how selfish we have become, it is self gratification nothing else.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Huh? I don't know any couples who sit around and have phone s e x instead of being intimate with one another?

      December 14, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I'm old-fashioned, but I think that many writers here have missed something. I wouldn't swap my marriage for anything.
    If you find somebody with whom you can say, "I want to spend the rest of my life with you...I want to meet all of life's experiences with you at my side," that's why you get married. It says to everybody else, "hands off–this is ours."
    You don't get married for taxes.
    People are different. I can see a committed relationship, with children, without a ceremony, but why not announce it? You can do it at City Hall for almost no money. Bring friends and have a little party. Make a lot of spaghetti.
    It's not about money.
    Well, I'm older than a lot of you now.
    I still wouldn't change.

    December 14, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      The problem is it takes two people with the same commitment. One person can be fully committed but that doesn't mean the other won't jump ship at the slightest problem. Marriage vows are meaningless these days, people get divorced all the time just because it isn't the perfect fairytale they thought it would be. As long as divorce is acceptable, women can have careers and support themselves, and men get run through the wringer in divorce court, marriage will continue to lose popularity.

      December 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • PhillyRN

      Thanks Joey! Lovely post. You can easily see the people who have the most joy in their life, and those are the people who kept their hearts open to love and true commitment.

      Sure you hit bumps, divorced posters, but don't close the door. You can have what Joey has.

      December 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
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